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Author Topic: Ill House Comm Holds Emergency Hearing on Reported Youth Prison Sex Abuse  (Read 3151 times)

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Offline TimeStandsStill

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Illinois House committee holds emergency hearing on reported youth prison sex abuse
Lawmakers respond to federal report that 15 percent of Illinois youth prisoners reported sexual victimization.

July 11, 2013
By: Patrick Smith

State Rep. La Shawn Ford (D-Chicago) has called for an emergency hearing of his Restorative Justice Committee to address high levels of reported sexual abuse inside Illinois youth prisons.

Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice Director Arthur Bishop is expected to attend the committee meeting, where he will face questions about a June federal report that named Illinois as one of the worst states when it comes to reported sexual abuse in its youth prisons.

Lawmakers say they want to ask Bishop what went wrong and what he is doing to fix it.

“We as a committee that deals with restorative justice need to ask some pointed questions of the director,” said State Rep. Dennis Reboletti (R-Addison), the committee’s Republican spokesman.

The federal report found that about 15 percent of juveniles reported being sexually victimized while inside one of Illinois’ youth prisons. Nationally that figure was less than 10 percent.

Most of the reported sexual abuse was allegedly done by prison staff.

Reboletti, who is a former prosecutor, said that raises serious questions.

“I want to find out how staff are trained, how staff are disciplined, if criminal charges are being brought … and what else can we be doing to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” he said.

Reboletti also said he wants information on how many youth prisoners alleged sexual abuse in the past six months, and how those claims were investigated.

That research is one of the measures Bishop said he is taking in response to the report. He said the department investigates all allegations of abuse thoroughly.

The department also set up a youth hotline and a youth advisory council in an effort to make sure the youth prisoners have a voice in the system, Bishop said.

Bishop also said he was convening a panel of experts to investigate the report and recommend changes.

So far those experts have not been named.

State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D-Chicago), the committee’s vice chairwoman, said the state legislature has a critical part to play in reforming the department in light of the report.

“Our role is to ask pointed questions about how we came to be so horribly dysfunctional in these facilities, and begin to examine ways we can make it better and ways that we as a legislature can mandate those improvements,” Cassidy said.

Juvenile justice advocates say a key improvement would be an independent inspector general for the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice, which runs the youth prisons.

That was proposed when the department was created in 2006, but legislators didn’t go for it.

“When we created the Department of Juvenile Justice one of the fundamental ideas was an ombudsman, and that didn’t happen. So that’s something that can be almost immediately created,” said the head of the Illinois Commission on Juvenile Justice, retired Judge George Timberlake.

Cassidy says that was a mistake and lawmakers “clearly” haven’t done enough to monitor the department.

“We can do more,” she said.

The House committee hearing is scheduled  for July 30 in Chicago.


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More Reports of Youth Prison Sexual Assaults; Joliet Mentioned

 State officials are looking into claims that 15-percent of Illinois’ 900-youth prisoners were sexually abused last year.  A recent report released by the U.S. Department of Justice reveals the alarming number, putting the former Joliet Youth Correctional Center as one of the worst lock-ups in the nation.  More than 20-percent of the Joliet inmates that responded to the survey claimed they were assaulted last year, 14-percent of those encounters were forced.  Officials say they take the claims very seriously and are taking steps to remedy the problem.


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Published on WBEZ 91.5 Chicago (http://www.wbez.org)

Source URL: http://www.wbez.org/news/illinois-lawmakers-looking-high-incidence-sexual-abuse-youth-prisons-108238

Illinois lawmakers looking at high incidence of sexual abuse in youth prisons

 July 30, 2013


Illinois state legislators are considering reforms to the youth prison system to address sexual abuse that was brought to light in a recent federal study.  The study by the bureau of justice statistics found that more than 15 percent of kids in custody reported being victims of sexual abuse. It’s one of the highest rates in the nation and the report is giving advocates new ammunition to push changes they’ve wanted for a long time.

They pushed those changes at a hearing Tuesday held by state legislators in Chicago. Lisa Jacobs with the Illinois Juvenile Justice Commission told lawmakers there must be a better grievance process in the Department of Juvenile Justice so kids can lodge complaints without fear of retaliation. She says an inspector general should be appointed to investigate complaints and an ombudsman should be within the facilities taking kids' complaints before they turn into major problems.

Jacobs says there needs to be more transparency all around. “Watchdog access, family access is a big theme that we’ve been talking about, an ombudsman, we need to know what happens in these facilities,” said Jacobs.

Arthur Bishop, the director of the Department of Juvenile Justice, told lawmakers that he fully supports the creation of an ombudsman position.

Julie Biehl with the Children and Family Justice Center at Northwestern Law School told lawmakers that kids need to have attorneys during incarceration.  She says when kids have parole hearings they often don’t know what’s going on and they don’t represent themselves well.  That causes longer stays, perhaps unnecessarily long. She says that over-incarceration costs the state a lot of money.

“It’s important for youth to have an advocate, someone they can trust, someone [whose] sole job is to zealously represent their interests,” said Biehl.

Biehl has been pushing this idea for several years but says the recent report on sexual abuse gives her proposal added urgency. She says attorneys for incarcerated kids could help prevent sexual abuse because kids would have an independent, confidential person to report the abuse to, hopefully stopping it early.

Offline Forevermah

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    • Illinois Prison Talk

Thursday, August 15,2013

Illinois addresses sex abuse in youth prisons
Fifteen percent of youth reported sex abuse

By Patrick Yeagle

Following a federal report showing high rates of sex abuse in Illinois’ youth prisons, the Illinois Department of Juvenile Justice is moving to eliminate the problem.

In June, the federal Department of Justice released a report on levels of sexual victimization in juvenile detention facilities nationwide. Based on surveys of detained youth, the report placed Illinois among the top four states for sex abuse in juvenile prisons. In response, IDJJ created a multifaceted plan to better train its staff, give incarcerated youth a voice and submit to some outside scrutiny of its practices.

Illinois’ six juvenile prisons – known as “youth centers” – house less than 900 young inmates between the ages of 13 and 20 around the state. The prison in Warrenville is for female inmates, while the prisons in Chicago, Joliet, St. Charles, Harrisburg and Kewanee house only males.

The federal report found that the average rate of sexual victimization in youth prisons is 9.5 percent, but five of Illinois’ six youth prisons had higher rates, ranging from 13 percent in Warrenville to 21.1 percent in Joliet. In total, 15 percent of youth in Illinois juvenile prisons reported sexual victimization.

Surveyors used several criteria to screen for potentially false responses, such as youth reporting extreme height or weight, giving conflicting answers, or giving answers inconsistent with their physical sex. Obviously falsified responses were removed from the sample.

IDJJ director Arthur Bishop outlined the department’s plan to address the problem during a legislative committee hearing on July 30. The plan includes having a three-member panel of experts examine the department’s practices to bring them in line with federal standards under the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003. Staff will be trained to recognize and report sexual abuse, and youth will be given several options to report abuse, including a dedicated hotline.

The effort is part of a shift in how sexual abuse in prison is viewed by those in charge. In May 2012, the federal Department of Justice issued a final rule to implement the Prison Rape Elimination Act of 2003, decrying past disregard for the problem.

“For too long, incidents of sexual abuse against incarcerated persons have not been taken as seriously as sexual abuse outside prison walls,” DOJ said in issuing its rule. “In popular culture, prison rape is often the subject of jokes; in public discourse, it has been at times dismissed by some as an inevitable – or even deserved – consequence of criminality. But sexual abuse is never a laughing matter, nor is it punishment for a crime. Rather, it is a crime, and it is no more tolerable when its victims have committed crimes of their own.”

The rule threatens to revoke five percent of federal prison funding to states that don’t comply with the standards, unless a state promises to use that five percent solely for becoming compliant.

One of the standards under the federal law is maintaining adequate staffing to ensure inmates are protected from rape. For juvenile facilities, that means a ratio of one staff member for every eight inmates during the day and one staff member for every 16 inmates at night. That requirement doesn’t take effect until 2017, however, due to the cost and time required to hire qualified staff.

The standards also call for a ban on cross-gender body searches in most circumstances and showers that don’t allow staff of the opposite gender to view inmates naked. Staff and inmates alike are supposed to be trained to recognize and report sexual abuse, and screening of inmates is supposed to keep those at risk of being victimized away from those most likely to commit sexual abuse.

Arthur Bishop, the IDJJ director, told lawmakers in July that the department was already working on compliance with the federal standards before the report’s release. Already, the abuse reporting hotline has yielded at least 20 investigations. Most of the accusations were found to be unsubstantiated, Bishop said, though some are ongoing.

“The Department of Juvenile Justice has zero-tolerance for any type of sexual abuse, harassment or victimization, and is committed to providing safe, rehabilitative and appropriately secure environments for youth,” Bishop said. “Any amount or percent of abuse is serious and very concerning.”

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